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Brother Of 9/11 Victim Visits Memorial [Pic]

STAN HONDA / AFP / Getty Images

During the noisy, chaotic third week of September 2001, my father wrote letters to theNew York Timesand thePost, and was published in both, asking simply that the press stop calling his daughter, whod been murdered on live television a few days earlier, a hero. The heroes ranintothe buildings; she was just a person who happened to have gotten to work a little early on a Tuesday morning, and that was horrible and heartbreaking and difficult enough without the extra assignation. On Sept. 21, the day that would have been my sisters 28th birthday, he gave a eulogy to this effect at her memorial, speaking steady-voiced at a podium in front of several hundred friends and relatives and people who read an announcement somewhere and didnt know what else to do with themselves.

In the days and years after, this was less a mantra than our only way forward: Find a way to separate what happened from what happened to us, to decline participation in most of the ceremonies and pageantry in favor of figuring out on our own our familys new geometry just like any family that has suffered a loss. Sometimes this works, sometimes it feels like its own form of grandstanding. Others, of course, feel the opposite: The worlds attention validated the size of their grief. Their sons and daughters and mothers and fathers and husbands and wives and fiancs and friends were worth starting a war over. We understood this and respected this and just chose another, quieter way, at least until my father got sick and couldnt stop blurting it out, over and over, to strangers in parking lots.

Which is why the corner of Greenwich and Liberty on this bright Sunday afternoon, amid a riot of mid-spring tourists with wrinkled maps and exposed knees taking photos of cranes, is the very last place I should be. I am allowed to enter the 9/11 Museum a few days before this weeks grand opening for the general public, but why would I want that? Why would I accept an invitation to a roughly $350 million, 110,000-square-foot refutation of everything we tried to practice, a gleaming monument to What Happened, not What Happened to Us? Something snapped whilereading about the gift shop I didnt want to duck and hide, I wanted to run straight into the absurdity and horror and feel every bit of the righteous indignation and come out the other side raw. I call my mother to tell her Im doing this but that she shouldnt come, and she doesnt disagree. I find the ticket booth, exhale deeply, and say the magic words.

STAN HONDA / AFP / Getty Images

After the full-bore TSA-style security check, complete with body scan, theres a dark corridor with word clouds and photographs projected onto tower-like pillars, while disembodied voices tell snippets of stories about the morning, an overture warning us about the symphony ahead. We are eased into it in a sense, lowered into the maw down a ramp along the original foundation of the towers, a marvel of engineering. Girders and rubble and broken staircases, among the ruins. An impossibly mangled hook-and-ladder truck, showroom parked.

The crowded memorial hall is lined with photos of everyone who died and touchscreen consoles that call up their obituaries; my sister is found, as she has been for 12 1/2 years and will be forever, between Gavkharoy Kamardinova and Howard Lee Kane. The names are read aloud on a loop in the adjacent darkened atrium lined with benches. My sisters profile has incorrect information in it that wed never signed off on or even seen, and the annoyance is tempered by the realization that nonparticipation in the pageantry has its drawbacks. It also occurs to me that I am the only person here alone.

The main attraction is through a revolving door: a minute-by-minute re-creation of the morning and its aftermath, from video of Matt Lauers first distracted, furrowed brow at the end of an interview with some author on theTodayshow and on and on through the top of the spire on Liberty Tower. As claustrophobic as the outer area is cavernous, this part is the haunted house I wander to a tucked-away corner to find a giant photo of people leaping from the burning building and yell, Fuck! like someone jumped out and grabbed me, and no one bats an eye. Frayed nerves are the baseline condition.

Steve Kandell / BuzzFeed

Theres a multimedia presentation depicting how, precisely, the towers collapsed. A wing for Pennsylvania and the Pentagon, tape loops of survivors telling how they got out. Smoke and fire and ash and twisted metal and the husk of an ambulance. Tattered flags, handwritten pleas for help, missing persons flyers, screams. Dusty, ownerless Topsiders encased in glass. A soot-coated bike rack, as it was found. Countless personal artifacts, artfully destroyed. The posters forKing KongandManhattanandWorking Girlwith the towers, resplendent. The president addressing the nation and vowing steely, determined revenge. Hallways dedicated to tracing the hijackers timeline and of al-Qaedas rise and a video wall with people like Hillary Clinton laying out the justification for the unending war on terror, tying grief inextricably, cannily to political ideology in a way that might seem crass if I were able to process it all with a clear head. There is no way out until the end, and its all so numbing that maybe this is the whole point: The exhibition starts with one shining, unfathomably terrible morning and winds up as all of our lives, as banal and constant as laundry, bottomless. I can feel the sweat that went into making this not seem tacky, of wanting to show respect, but also wanting to show every last bit of carnage and visceral whomp to justify the $24 price of admission vulgarity with the noblest intentions.

The fact that everyone else here has VIP status grimly similar to mine is the lone saving grace; the prospect of experiencing this stroll down waking nightmare lane with tuned-out schoolkids or spectacle-seekers would be too much. There are FDNY T-shirts and search-and-rescue sweatshirts and no one quite makes eye contact with anyone else, and thats just fine. I think now of every war memorial I ever yawned through on a class trip, how someone elses past horror was my vacant diversion and maybe I learned something but I didnt feel anything. Everyone should have a museum dedicated to the worst day of their life and be forced to attend it with a bunch of tourists from Denmark. Annotated divorce papers blown up and mounted, interactive exhibits detailing how your moms last round of chemo didnt take, souvenir T-shirts emblazoned with your best friends last words before the car crash. And you should have to see for yourself how little your pain matters to a family of five who need to get some food before the kids melt down. Or maybe worse, watch it be co-opted by people who want, for whatever reason, to feel that connection so acutely.

There are two recording booths for people to tell their own stories of the day, or remembrances of loved ones who were lost. A man exits one of the confessionals, sees me, shakes his head, and says, Amazing idea. I enter, sit down, and stare at the screen ahead and say Sharis name and how I was 3,000 miles away that morning and didnt even know she was working there until I got the call at 6 in the morning and that I wish I had seen her more in those last years and remembered more about her and had something better prepared to say and that I wished my kids would have known her and that shed think its pretty fucking weird that Im talking about her to an invisible camera in the bowels of a museum dedicated to the fact that she was killed by an airplane while sitting at her desk and at some point the timer is up.

By the time I finally reach the gift shop, the indignation Ive been counting on just isnt there. I stare at the $39 hoodies and the rescue vests for dogs and the earrings and the scarves and the United We Stand wool blankets waiting for that rush and cant muster so much as a sigh. The events of the day have already been exploited and sold in ways previously incomprehensible, why get mad at a commemorative T-shirt now? This tchotchke store this building, this experience is nothing more than the logical endpoint for our most reliably commodifiable national tragedy. If you want to bring a coffee table book full of photos of cadaver dogs sniffing through smoking rubble back home to wherever youre from, hey, thats great. This is America, you can buy what you want; they hate our freedom to buy what we want. People will find moments of grace or enlightenment or even peace from coming here, I dont need to be one of them. Ill probably bring my son one day once I realize I wont have the words to explain. It can be of use. Its fine. I dont know.

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

There is one small room on the main floor of the museum that is in fact not operated by the museum itself and is not available even to many of the families. Tucked away off to the side, behind an unmarked door, it is overseen by the medical examiners office. This is called the reflection room.

To get past the door, one must register for an appointment. I have not done this, but I present a case number, which means the official from the medical examiners office can indeed let me through just a few days into this museums existence, and a few days before its even officially open, and already people have apparently tried lying about dead relatives to get in here. The officials name is Ben, and he walks with me into a small waiting room with a couple of chairs and a large photo of a candlelight vigil, probably from Union Square. Ben tells me softly that no one from the museum is allowed past this part of the room, and even then, only for cleaning. My family is welcome whenever the museum is open.

He points me around the corner to a cramped, dark space but does not follow. A box of tissues sits on a wooden bench and a family huddles silently looking through a window, about 4 feet by 5 feet. They leave almost instantly and I can now see what is through the window: aisles of dark-stained wood cabinets of rosewood or teak maybe, floor to ceiling, lit by small overhead spotlights. I let out a loud, sharp laugh.

Inside these cabinets are the remains that, after nearly 13 years of the most rigorous testing known to man, have not been matched to the DNA of any of the victims. Just drawers and drawers full ofstuff. I wouldnt really want to think too hard about what exactly that stuff is, but given that its a picture window looking out at cabinetry, there isnt really anything elsetothink about. This chamber is meant to be a sanctuary, but I cannot ruminate about the arbitrary cruelty of the universe or lament the vagaries of loss and love because all there is to see are armoires packed with carefully labeled bags of flesh too ruined and desiccated even for science. My sister is among the many for whom there have been no remains recovered whatsoever. Vaporized. So theres no grave to visit, there never will be. Just this theatrically lit Ikea warehouse behind a panel of glass.

I remember being at the armory on the east side with my parents, maybe three days after I was on the very first flight allowed out of San Francisco, a small army of friends mobilized to take care of my dog for however long Id be gone to hand over an old hairbrush of my sisters for DNA matching. A nun had my mom swab the inside of her mouth with a Q-tip to help with identification, although the nun said, kindly but nervously, that everything would be fine and none of this would be necessary. My mother comforted the nun and said it was pretty clear that everything wasnt going to be fine, but she appreciated the sentiment.

The presence of the tomb has been a point of contention among families more vocal than ours who want more from a final resting place than the basement of this museum of unnatural history. I dont know how to feel about the matter because to do so would require any of this making even a bit of sense. Its dumb, sure, but what could possibly be less dumb? Whereisthe right place to store pounds of unidentifiable human tissue so that future generations can pay their respects? I would not wish whats happened to my family on anyone, but I begrudgingly admire its infinite weirdness, still, after all this time. A hushed flute rendition of Amazing Grace wafts reverently over the escalators as I head back up to sunlight.

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

What Do You Think?

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Date: 05/21/14 07:46 AM

13 Responses to Brother Of 9/11 Victim Visits Memorial [Pic]

  1. Profile photo of Draculya
    Draculya Male 40-49
    14653 posts
    May 21, 2014 at 6:16 am
    Link: Brother Of 9/11 Victim Visits Memorial - What Do You Think?
  2. Profile photo of SmagBoy1
    SmagBoy1 Male 40-49
    4432 posts
    May 21, 2014 at 7:54 am
    Powerful essay. Thanks, Draculya.
  3. Profile photo of Grendel
    Grendel Male 40-49
    6267 posts
    May 21, 2014 at 8:05 am
    Beautiful article.

    If any 9/11 truther idiots decide to read this, please, keep your ignorance to yourself.
  4. Profile photo of Jonno22
    Jonno22 Male 18-29
    55 posts
    May 21, 2014 at 9:08 am
    Great piece. Is there an original source for this? I`d like to see where it was originally posted.
  5. Profile photo of CrakrJak
    CrakrJak Male 40-49
    17514 posts
    May 21, 2014 at 10:31 am
    The people wanted a tomb, instead they got rows of dimly lit cabinets. I can`t imagine the indignity these families feel now.
  6. Profile photo of Fml
    Fml Male 30-39
    277 posts
    May 21, 2014 at 11:55 am
    here it is Steve Kandell on Buzfeed
  7. Profile photo of patchouly
    patchouly Male 40-49
    4746 posts
    May 21, 2014 at 12:15 pm
    Well written essay on a tough subject.
  8. Profile photo of turdburglar
    turdburglar Male 30-39
    4896 posts
    May 21, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    I understand his feelings. He want`s to feel bitter. He want`s to feel victimized.

    He IS a victim. It happens to all of us, multiple times thru our lives.

    Millions of people lost loved ones that day. What`s the point of s#!tting on the tribute made for those lost? Sorry it wasn`t up to your standards, captain big baby victim.

    Imagine the outrage if there were no memorial built.

    He can feel however he wants. I might very well feel the same.

    I wouldn`t cry like a bitter baby. I wouldn`t try to make them, the people who put up the memorial, others who lost loved ones, and people who visit the memorial feel like garbage.

    Did I read something different than everyone else? I didn`t see it as beautiful or great. Definitely not well written.

    Righteous indignation? Gimme a break. That`s the same nickname I gave my junk. (seriously)

  9. Profile photo of Draculya
    Draculya Male 40-49
    14653 posts
    May 21, 2014 at 8:56 pm
    The link to the original article
  10. Profile photo of Sleepyhallow
    Sleepyhallow Male 50-59
    1983 posts
    May 21, 2014 at 10:29 pm
    I think it is disgusting and depraved.

    A green grassy park with a small memorial plaque would have been in better taste.

    This is obscene.
  11. Profile photo of OldOllie
    OldOllie Male 60-69
    15841 posts
    May 21, 2014 at 11:52 pm
    Everyone grieves in his own way. Some people think the memorial is appropriate; some do not. You can choose to go there or not.
  12. Profile photo of SmagBoy1
    SmagBoy1 Male 40-49
    4432 posts
    May 22, 2014 at 3:27 am
    @turdburglar: I saw it as someone struggling with exactly what you`re indicating, but, being aware of that struggle and trying to actively *not* feel that way. In other words, I saw it as someone acutely aware of the complexities of emotion and feeling around this and trying to come to terms with and accept those feelings.

    In other words, at least IMHO, some powerful self-awareness and introspection, mixed with a healthy dash of respect and understanding for the the fact that others might (and likely do) feel and react differently.
  13. Profile photo of FredSpudman
    FredSpudman Male 18-29
    653 posts
    May 22, 2014 at 6:34 am
    @turdburglar I think that if people think it`s well written or not depends a great deal on how much they agree with the sentiments expressed.

    Anyway, when people go to see Auschwitz, there will be kids running about and taking pictures and smiling, and of course this seems inappropriate. But then, everything seems inappropriate. If you didn`t lose anyone in the holocaust and you go there, isn`t that mawkish? Should you cry? Should you feel proud you`ve gone there, feel a better human and better spiritually for going to a place that symbolises that big groups of people can be utter scheisse to other big groups of people? That`s what the author was getting at. All of this 9/11 memorial was wrong to him, but that`s because nothing could ever be right.

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